Romantic relationships between employees are not all hearts and flowers: they pose a substantial risk for employers. The risk is even greater when one of the romantically involved employees supervises the other. See Govt C §12940(j)(1); 2 Cal Code Regs §7287.6(b).
Things may start off very welcome and consensual, but romance can turn sour and then it becomes a problem when the employees involved bring their personal conflict into the office.
Although there are limits as to what an employer can do in terms of regulating an employee’s personal relationships outside of the office, employers can and should take steps to minimize problems of supervision, safety, security, and morale that affect life in the office. See Govt C §12940(a)(3)(A); 2 Cal Code Regs §7292.5.
One step employers can take is using what’s been called a “love contract.” A love contract can mitigate some of the risks of office romance to the employer in 3 important ways:
- It establishes a factual baseline that the romantic relationship is mutually welcome, which minimizes the risk that one or both of the employees will later deny that the relationship was consensual;
- It reaffirms the company’s sexual harassment and discrimination policy, which will help the company defend against any claim that it failed to prevent harassment; and
- It establishes a clear reporting mechanism so that both employees have a way to make complaints if any issues develop.
A love contract can help employers defend against certain potential claims by showing that they used reasonable care to prevent and correct any harassment and that the employee unreasonably failed to make a complaint under the policy or to avoid harm otherwise.
Although the love contract takes the form of a traditional contract, it’s intended to be a statement of the company’s harassment policy and an acknowledgment of the policy and agreement by the employees to abide by it. Employers may want to incorporate an arbitration clause in the love contract for disputes arising out of the social relationship.
Are you interested in having a love contract for your company or your clients? CEB has a sample contract in the chapter on employment contracts in Drafting Employment Documents for California Employers, and an alternative sample love contract is in CEB’s Advising California Employers and Employees, §15.90A.
Related CEB blog posts:
© The Regents of the University of California, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.